Attorneys accuse acclaimed Oakland BBQ entrepreneur of ducking legal settlement as he receives $100,000 from Alameda County

Attorneys accuse acclaimed Oakland BBQ entrepreneur of ducking legal settlement as he receives $100,000 from Alameda County

Matt Horn has been a hard man to reach this month, at least for his former business partner’s attorneys, but Alameda County officials are expected to find a way to provide him $100,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding.

The notable restauranteur’s West Oakland restaurant, Horn Barbecue, burned last November in a fire, and was red-tagged by inspectors. The city’s fire department still hasn’t nailed down a cause, though Horn suggested early on that it was arson.

As he’s been busy rebuilding the restaurant, Horn has also been building a narrative of resilience on social media, including in a recent short film, “Rising From the Ashes,” produced about the barbecue spot’s recovery.

The $100,000 pandemic funding boost may aid that effort, but Horn wasn’t at Tuesday’s Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss it before the money was unanimously approved.

Meanwhile, the attorneys for David Kim, his former business partner, have said they haven’t been able to reach Horn — not in person, by mail or phone at his listed business and home addresses.

A judge ordered Horn in December to pay a $167,000 settlement to Kim, who claimed he had to work for free after helping get Horn Barbecue off the ground and subsequently being pushed out of the business. It is just one of multiple legal battles Horn has faced since the restaurant’s opening in 2020.

A Feb. 13 notice written by one of Kim’s attorneys, Jim Hinds, accuses Horn of actively avoiding his agreed-upon duty to either make his next payment to Kim or explain with financial documents why he cannot.

“My line of work (exists) because people don’t want to make payments that they owe somebody,” Hinds said in an interview this week. “Mr. Horn has been particularly nefarious in that every time we think we’ve got a good address for him, we haven’t been able to reach him.”

Reached by text by this news organization Wednesday, Horn replied that he wasn’t aware the county supervisors had approved $100,000 for his business. “I was in my kitchen working,” he wrote.

Horn questioned the idea that he has avoided his former business partner’s attorneys, adding, “What does it matter if I address it or not, people believe whatever they want to. My character is sound and intact.” Soon afterward, he unsent the text message.

Oakland firefighters investigate the aftermath of a fire at Horn Barbecue in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. A blaze gutted the restaurant early Tuesday morning. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Horn had submitted his $100,000 funding request to the supervisors on Dec. 12, the same day that Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kaus ordered him to pay $167,000 to Kim.

Kim’s attorneys said Horn made his first payment, but that he missed the deadline for the next.

The supervisors, meanwhile, did not explain or even discuss Horn’s funding request on Tuesday before unanimously approving the money — part of a bulk vote that contained numerous agenda items. Another business, a co-working and events space company named Oakstop, also received $100,000.

The $100,000 came from what’s left of Supervisor Keith Carson’s $3.1 million share of COVID-19 funding that had been split up between the five-member board to distribute among their districts. Carson, whose district includes West Oakland and parts of North Oakland, among other East Bay cities, didn’t respond to multiple interview requests.

His colleague, board President Nate Miley, said shortly after Tuesday’s meeting that he wasn’t familiar with the agenda item he had just voted to approve, while another, Supervisor Lena Tam, said each of the supervisors usually goes along with the others’ desired funding choices.

Horn’s request for relief funding, which outlined the familiar problems associated with losing in-person dining during the pandemic, did not mention the Nov. 21 fire that had taken place a few weeks prior at the restaurant on Mandela Parkway.

At the time of the restaurant’s burning, Horn had speculated to news outlets that it may have been an arson — retaliation for a social media post he’d made two days earlier when the side of his restaurant had been tagged with graffiti.

“To you cowardly individuals responsible for this, hear me clearly: you are nothing more than the filth that plagues our beautiful city,” Horn had written on Instagram following the tagging.

Part of the Horn Barbecue after a fire in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. Damage was so significant that city inspectors have red-tagged the building, meaning it cannot be entered until structural concerns are addressed. The fire’s cause is under investigation. (Oakland Fire Department) 

Related Articles

Crime and Public Safety |

Gov. Newsom denies report he pushed for ‘bread’ exception to California’s new fast food minimum wage law

Crime and Public Safety |

Panera Bread says big changes are coming in April

Crime and Public Safety |

New Cholita Linda restaurant debuts in Walnut Creek

Crime and Public Safety |

Drake’s Brewing alums open Brix Factory Brewing in West Oakland

Crime and Public Safety |

Outback Steakhouse parent company closes 41 ‘underperforming’ restaurants

The ensuing fire did not prevent Horn from handing out free Thanksgiving turkeys to residents the very next day, his annual tradition.

An acclaimed pitmaster with his own book of recipes, Horn launched the eponymous West Oakland restaurant in October 2020. Eighteen months earlier, he had allegedly formed a business partnership with Kim, who later claimed to have invested $3,000 and long hours into the business.

Kim, who heads the Stanford Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, ultimately sued for unpaid wages, saying he was forced out of the business — an allegation that Horn denied.

Kim hasn’t been Horn’s only problem: meat distributor Golden Gate Meat Co. sued him in 2022, saying that he hadn’t paid his invoices and ultimately securing a $83,000 settlement. Horn also faced complaints from former employees of delayed or unpaid wages.

The day his restaurant burned last November, Horn told KTVU that he didn’t believe his legal opponents would’ve set the fire — or, he added, he hoped that wasn’t the case.

A fire department spokesperson confirmed this week that no cause for the fire has been established. Investigators are now hoping for new surveillance footage to emerge or someone to come forward.

One of Kim’s attorneys, for his part, said he just wants to get in touch with Horn.

“We’re going to get his information and money,” Hinds said. “Mr. Horn is just making it very hard.”